Building communication skills in your 21st century classroom

In the STEM workplace, employers are looking for graduates that are not only proficient in content, but also in soft skills. These skills are referred to as 21st Century skills and include the ability to comprehend material quickly, solve problems, and manage time. When it comes to desired skills in the STEM workplace, communication tops the list. Communication is something that is cited as lacking by both educators and those in the STEM workplace alike. While this generation is very technologically savvy, students don’t know how to effectively communicate using technological tools. So what can educators do to improve students’ communication skills?

21st Century Communication Skill Goals

Communication skills can be developed through both cooperative learning and direct instruction, but highest increases are linked with cooperative settings. While students understand the importance of developing communication skills, they have a lack of interest, especially in written communication. This is due in part to feeling a disconnect between classroom communication experiences and real-world applications. To begin improving students’ communication skills, set specific communication goals for students, such as:
– Articulate thoughts effectively using all forms of communication in a variety of contexts
– Listen to others in order to understand meaning, attitude, and intention
– Communicate for a variety of purposes and audiences
– Use media and technology to communicate with impact

Classroom Strategies to Develop Communication Skills

Oral Communication

Oral communication skills are needed to exchange information, persuade, or explain. Students may excel at casual oral communication with peers, but this is sometimes difficult to translate into a professional or technical setting. To help students gain confidence in their oral communication skills, consider the following strategies:
– Create opportunities for students to present in a public format. Audiences should vary and not only include peers. Encourage students to utilize technology and media as a tool to enhance their presentation, rather than a tool to read from.
– Teach your students how to create an “elevator pitch” to be effective and concise in their speech.
– Hold debates in your classroom on topics relating to the content. Rather than a traditional one-to-one format, have students sit in a circle. They can each take turns making opening statements, rebuttals, and closing statements.

Written Communication

21st Century SkillsWritten communication skills in the workplace are needed to write memos, emails, and reports. While writing is used in the STEM classroom daily, students need to see the connection between classroom writing and practical applications. Choose some of the following strategies to make that connection more concrete for your students:
– Connect all writing assignments to something relevant and practical. This will not only improve engagement, but will prepare students for writing in the workplace.
– Ask students to write in a variety of formats, especially business and persuasive writing. Formats can include letters, pitches, technical writing, proposals, advertising, flyers, and blog posts.
– Include digital writing assignments to further improve 21st Century Skills. Blogs and wikis can be used to share student writing.
– Encourage students to reflect at the end of a learning experience or activity. As part of experiential learning, reflection will improve critical thinking skills, along with writing.

Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication or social communication skills are needed to interact with one another. This skill is often overlooked in the classroom, but is one that is sought in the STEM workplace. Students can leave school with a mastery of the content, yet lack the ability to communicate and collaborate with others. Interpersonal communication includes the ability to communicate and read emotion, motivation, and behaviors in a social context. To enhance students’ interpersonal communication skills, try the following strategies:
– Create diverse groups during classroom activities. This will encourage students to share different perspectives and develop listening skills.
– Provide opportunities for students to communicate in virtual formats, such as email or messaging. It is difficult to convey meaning when you cannot use nonverbal cues to express yourself. Virtual formats will challenge students to communicate with group members in a clear and concise manner.
– Practice listening skills by encouraging eye contact, observing body language, and asking questions.
– Project-based learning activities can be used to foster the development of team building. While solving problems or creating products, students must be able to work together over a long period of time to be successful. Check out some examples of project-based learning.

Learn about more 21st Century skills and how to bring them into your classroom!

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